Eugenie Bouchard coup a good omen
City's new tennis tournament getting off to a strong start by signing exciting young Canadian talent to play at Victoria Park
There must be something working in our favour to be able to attract a young talent like Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who this week confirmed she will be at Victoria Park in early September to play at the Hong Kong Tennis Open.
Quebec native Bouchard will face a long journey from New York to make it in time for her first-round match. Judging by her recent form at grand slam events, it might well end up as a race against time for her as Hong Kong's return to the world of professional tennis is scheduled for the week following the last major of the year.
Bouchard has reached the semi-finals in both grand slam tournaments this year - the Australian Open and the French Open, where she finished up a gallant loser in three sets to Maria Sharapova (4-6, 7-5, 6-2) - and there is nothing to say that the hottest player on the circuit so far this season might not reach the latter stages of the US Open.
The 20-year-old does not only have looks on her side; she is also armed with a tenacious game which has seen her world ranking climb to 16, something which is bound to go higher after her exploits at Roland Garros. She will bring a dash of glamour to Victoria Park and is bound to be a crowd favourite.
Herbert Chow Siu-lung, president of the Hong Kong Tennis Association, said snaring the exuberant Bouchard was a major coup for tournament organisers. He is dead right. Although relatively unknown, Bouchard has all the right ingredients to become the next big thing in women's tennis and her string of successes at the first two slams this season point to her being a future champion.
Chow revealed their target is to make the Hong Kong WTA International Series the "most glamorous and prestigious" tournament in the world.
There are 32 International Series tournaments, which, in the bigger picture, is one of the lower rungs in the WTA hierarchy, with the apex the season-ending US$4.9 million WTA Tour Championship, which Singapore has netted. Hong Kong is small fry, with prize money of US$250,000 only allowing for one top-10 player in the 32-strong singles draw.
We can raise the prize money, even double it, but while it might ensure one more top-10 player, it will not increase the number of WTA points available. The only way for Hong Kong to rise up the ladder is to acquire a licence for the bigger tournaments like Premier and Premier 5 (offering increasing prize money and more WTA points) but the catch is that there is only a limited number of tournaments and the current licensees don't want to sell.
So it is a waiting game. Until something more attractive comes along - and if by then the HKTA has the money, or can convince the government to spend more - we will have to settle for an International Series event. Bouchard's appearance will help Hong Kong get off to a great start.
This is the first step in a long journey, with positive signs that the government will back tennis to the hilt.
It was the government's generous support of US$2 million which helped the HKTA buy the licence. The stars were aligned perfectly, for when the search got under way in earnest to find a party willing to sell - the WTA will not increase the number of tournaments as the calendar is already crowded - who should turn up but former Hong Kong Davis Cup captain Kevin Livesey, the owner of an International Series event in Bali. Livesey was willing to sell and US$2 million helped make up his mind. If this event is a success, the chances are that a few years down the line we could even see a men's ATP tournament coming to town. The government is receptive to the idea.
The HKTA has taken large strides in the right direction. Bouchard will be a huge drawcard and it will be up to the association to maximise her presence here. The very fact Bouchard has opted for Hong Kong over playing in a similar tournament in Quebec City speaks volumes for the magnetic pull of our city.
It has been a long time, too long, since we have had a proper professional tournament. We have had exhibition events but there is nothing like a real tournament where WTA points are up for grabs. Apart from Bouchard, China's number two Peng Shuai and her doubles partner from Taiwan, Hsieh Su-wei, have also signed up. The pair are the world's number one in doubles.
Roll on September.